Gratefull

My OCD’s at a point where it hardly ever affects me: I haven’t had a flare-up since last October, if not last July, and while that doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or anything (since there is no cure) it’s still a wonderful development.

I wrote that on Thursday, May 18, shortly after learning that Chris Cornell had killed himself. A few hours later I was in the initial throes of what’d turn out to be the worst OCD lapse I’ve had in years – if not ever.

Cornell’s death was the the triggering incident – the McGuffin, if you will – but the real culprits were me messing around with my medication and, more broadly, becoming complacent with my recovery. I’d been doing great on 15 mg of Trintellix, which is the antidepressant I’ve been taking since January; it seemed logical, then, that I’d do even better on 10 mg, especially since I’d been symptom-free for so long. (My doctor agreed.) But beyond that, it’d been such a long time since I’d had obsessive thoughts I was starting to let myself think that maybe, just maybe, I’d kicked OCD once and for all. Which is difficult to do, if not quite impossible: OCD’s a chronic illness, and even if it’s been dormant for a long time it’s liable to rear its head at a moment’s notice. Like, for instance, when your favourite singer dies by suicide.

Which is how the lapse began. But something else happened, too: I got pissed. How dare OCD force its way back into my life? How fucking dare it? And so I got pissed, and then I started fighting back.

This is part one of what’ll be a series of entries about my latest recovery from OCD. It might not be the last recovery – but two months in I’m feeling (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating) better than I’ve felt before.

Like, ever. I feel better than I’ve ever felt before. There have literally been times this week where I’ve sat back and marveled at just how good I’ve been feeling.

I’m also working harder at my recovery than I’ve worked at almost anything – ever. It’s been all-encompassing and my commitment’s been total. And each day the work starts as soon as I wake up and doesn’t end till right before I fall asleep with things called gratitude meditations. (This is the earth-y part of recovery, by the way.) They’re a great way of starting and ending each day; plus, gratitude’s been shown to stimulate serotonin, which is also what antidepressants do.

Gratitude meditations are short and simple. In the morning I give thanks for…

  • My bed
  • My senses
  • The rest of my body, including my brain
  • Sam
  • My family
  • My friends; this’ll often expand to incorporate my broader community, including neighbours and co-workers

At night, meanwhile, I give thanks for three things. Sometimes they’re big (my fiancée!). Sometimes they’re not (dark roast coffee!…scratch that, dark roast coffee’s the best; once, though, I gave thanks for a passing aircraft, and while I do love flying that one particular plane wasn’t especially meaningful to me). By simply enumerating things I’m grateful for at night I’ve begun finding all sorts of things to be thankful for during the day. Cumulatively, gratitude meditations have turned into a simple technique for appreciating my everyday life and being more aware of all the awesome in the world. Because when you’re looking for it, you’ll find it almost everywhere – sometimes, even, in mental health recovery.

This morning I’m grateful for light roast coffee, the British Open on TV, deliberately adding a second “l” to words, and the chance to share my recovery strategies with you. Have a gratefull day, everyone.

No One Sings Like You Anymore

Today, for the first time in exactly two months, I was able to listen to Chris Cornell’s voice and remain relatively unaffected. I knew it’d be tough; I honestly didn’t think it’d be this tough.

The week he died I erased almost all my Chris Cornell and Soundgarden related writing in a fit of grief-stricken pique – a decision I now regret. I won’t erase this. It’s hard listening, but dammit I won’t lose this man’s music or his voice from my life. And so I’ll continue to listen, continue to mourn, until I’m able to forget how he died and remember instead what he gave me and millions of other people while he was still alive.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in Toronto

Set:

  • Rockin’ Around (With You)
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • Forgotten Man
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Free Fallin’
  • Walls
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
  • It’s Good to Be King
  • Crawling Back to You
  • Wildflowers
  • Learning to Fly
  • Yer So Bad
  • I Should Have Known It
  • Refugee (which, alas, didn’t really turn into a Mike Campbell firework display; his playing last night, while brilliant, was understated)
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream

Encore:

  • You Wreck Me
  • American Girl

Next up: Blondie (with Garbage!) and X.

U2 in Toronto

More later. Promise.

Set:

  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • New Year’s Day
  • Bad
    • Suzanne [Leonard Cohen] (this was superlative; also, in the name of full disclosure, for the second straight time the opening notes of “Bad” reduced me to tears)
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)

The Joshua Tree:

  • Where the Streets Have No Name
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • With or Without You
  • Bullet the Blue Sky
  • Running to Stand Still
  • Red Mill Mining Town
  • In God’s Country
  • Trip Through Your Wire
  • One Tree Hill
  • Exit
  • Mothers of the Disappeared

Encore:

  • Miss Sarajevo
  • Beautiful Day
  • Elevation (surprisingly awesome!)
  • Vertigo (surprisingly really awesome!)
  • Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
  • One

…and then Bono shouted, “One more!” and…

  • I Will Follow

It wasn’t quite Moncton or Vancouver 2015…but it was damn close, and The Joshua Tree live was incredible top-to-bottom.

Tool in Hamilton

Better late than never, it’s the setlist from last week’s killer Tool show at Copps Coliseum FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, where I’d previously seen them (along with Mike Patton’s penis) in 2002.

Set:

  • The Grudge (first time since that aforementioned 2002 show!)
  • Parabol (ditto!)
  • Parabola (ditto!)
  • Schism
  • Opiate
  • Ænema
  • Descending (an instrumental song which, apparently, represents new Tool music?)
  • Jambi
  • Third Eye (highlight of the night; I was not expecting this, especially not in the back end of the set)
  • Forty-Six & 2

Encore (the band left the stage after “Forty-Six & 2” and a neon “Intermission” sign was lowered):

  • Drum solo
  • Vicarious
  • Sweat
  • (-) Ions
    • Stinkfist

The visuals alone were worth the price of admission. Now about that new album…

There’s Just One Thing Left to Be Said

Chris Cornell is dead – those words still don’t make sense – and I haven’t stopped thinking about him since I got HLP Paul’s text (which read, simply, “Chris Cornell,” followed by the shocked emoji) and became catatonic early Thursday. At first I avoided his voice (and music in general), then actively sought it out: I listened to Temple of the Dog, which helped, then “Seasons,” which didn’t, before moving onto Audioslave for the first time in ages. I’ve been avoiding it again this weekend. The thoughts, meanwhile, have been non-stop but incoherent, which I suppose is inevitable when someone who’s been in your life for twenty years, suddenly passes away.

One thought, though, has stuck, and that’s the awful image of his final moments on this earth: Chris Cornell – husband, father, beloved rock star, and my favourite singer of all-time – dead in a hotel bathroom. He changed the world; he changed me. And he died alone, almost certainly by his own hand.

I’ve never been suicidal, and so I can’t imagine the sort of hell Chris Cornell must’ve been occupying in order to consider ending his life, let alone acting on those thoughts. His lyrics offer the best clues (see “When I’m Down” from Euphoria Mourning, for instance), but beyond empathizing with his plight we can’t know what he was thinking or feeling when he arrived back at the MGM Grand Detroit following Soundgarden’s concert at the Fox Theatre. But whenever someone kills themselves, especially someone rich and famous, someone else will almost invariably offer the option that he (or she) shouldn’t have been depressed because he (or she) was rich and famous. That opinion is bullshit. And that’s because mental illness doesn’t. give. a. shit.

Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Chris Cornell and his band were scheduled to play Columbus Friday night. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Robin Williams was funny. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Kurt Cobain had been crowned as the voice of his generation; in fact, mental illness used that against him. Mental illness didn’t care about those men; it didn’t care about their wives or kids or careers or money. It doesn’t care about me. And it doesn’t care about you, either.

That, to me, is the lesson to be drawn from Cornell’s death. To borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda: mental illness doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. Thinking that it does is how stigma metastasizes. Rich Larson, who wrote a far more eloquent Cornell eulogy than mine, nailed this point to the wall when he wrote:

Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

Chris Cornell was sick. In some cases, depression is little more than a blip in a person’s life. In others, it can be fatal if left untreated. Please: don’t let it get to that point. Reach out (or reach down, if you prefer). Don’t assume mental illness can be outrun, because in a lot of instances it can’t. But it can be managed, and that starts with a single conversation. If there’s a silver lining to Chris Cornell’s death – and I have to believe there is – it’s that it might help one single person open up. And that’s something to cling to, even as we continue to mourn.

On Last Night’s Bike Ride

Last week I slashed my antidepressant dosage by a third, from 15mg a day to 10. My OCD’s at a point where it hardly ever affects me: I haven’t had a flare-up since last October, if not last July, and while that doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or anything (since there is no cure) it’s still a wonderful development.

But. Psychotropic drugs are meant to mess with your body, and any sort of adjustment, big or small, is going to have an impact. I’ve felt “off” since last week, and yesterday I was so lethargic I could hardly sit upright, let alone stand. Nonetheless, after work I came home, hopped on the bike, and went for a ride. We’re just a little over three weeks out from the Ride to Conquer Cancer; I need to get my miles in, withdrawal symptoms be damned. On my way back, riding alongside Lake Ontario into a brilliant early-evening sunset, I passed the Molson Amphitheatre, whose new corporate name I refuse to use.

I started thinking about some of the shows I’d seen there. Weezer. Aerosmith. Oasis and Pearl Jam twice each. Tom Petty. Robert Plant. Black Sabbath. And then another thought occurred to me: in spite of all I’ve seen there I’d never seen a truly transcendent Amphitheatre show. It’s my least-favourite major venue in Toronto. I don’t like the amphitheatre-style setup to begin with; the chore of entering and (especially) exiting the venue puts a damper on pre-show anticipation and gnaws away at any lingering post-concert bliss. It’s a tough room.

And then I realized: “Hey, this is where I saw Soundgarden for the first time!” It was one of the most special nights in my life as a music fan, the thing I dreamed would one day happen but that didn’t seem possible until I was actually down in the pit looking up at Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron, and Chris Cornell. Isn’t Soundgarden playing Detroit tonight? I thought to myself. Sherkin and I had talked about getting tickets, but neither of us was sure if we’d be able to make it and then let the subject go.

And so I biked home, ate dinner, and went to bed. When I woke up, Chris Cornell had died of suicide, aged 52.